illustration (c) Josť Villarrubia 2000 digital
illustration (c) Josť Villarrubia 2000
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Art by Chip Zdarsky. Copyright 2002.

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"In a city of the future, it is difficult to concentrate..."

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Gary Erskine
Colours: D'Israeli
Separations: Laura Depuy
3 Issue Miniseries
Published 2000 Image Comics

In first reading the premiere issue of Warren Ellis' City of Silence, the strained lack of context in the techno-dialogue led me to distill the story to what I believed was it's one-sentence essence: a cyberpunk Milk and Cheese. A bunch of youth culture freaks are thoroughly beat upon for indulging in the latest ethically reprobate fad.

Except Milk and Cheese didn't sleep with each other before they went out to bust a few heads.

A comment on sci-fi comics: I have a theory that lettering becomes increasingly important in a comic book with a science fiction or cyberpunk backdrop. Because so many terms need to be coined or conflated or abbreviated into handy slang, the vocabulary is about seventeen percent unfamiliar and has the decaying long-chain polycarbon new car smell of recent fabrication. And your brain would rather not process all this faux-language, it would rather go and admire the intricate artwork of this decaying future landscape. So the exposition needs to be very carefully meted out so that you are coaxed into reading it. Because it's good prose, and it eventually makes sense as it weaves its own internal context. In a novel, there are only the words to rely on, so you read them or drown. In a comic book, you can abandon the words for the images, which are more easily accessible.

I also thought that the terse dialogue of the characters suffered somewhat from Annie Parkhouse's lettering, The pacing of their speech was not well conveyed by the run-on paragraphs in which she enclosed them.

Mostly what City of Silence manages to be is funny. Once you figure out how to read the book, the strange behaviors and whimsical dialogue of the trio of Silencers is a laugh riot. The secrets that they have been hired to keep in their shadowy boxes are full of the far-flung deviant thought that one has come to expect from Ellis. Some of the violent dismemberments are a little graphically unnecessary, but rendered with an attention to detail that would make Geoff Darrow envious. Erskine's art, while perhaps off-putting to some fans, is expertly paced and fabulously inventive. His work with the cross-section of Hell's roll call in the third issue is disarmingly simplistic, and wondrous.

And in the end, the initial analysis still stands, but the tone of the statement has been stood on its head. City of Silence truly isn't much more than a ultraviolent sketch with a double-handful of self-aware wordplay and ludicrous elements of the science-fantastic. It is a romp in the way that Milk and Cheese was for the first few strips, before you realized that Evan Dorkin's one-trick pony has gone lame and needed to be shot. But City of Silence wraps itself up before it grows stale and the audience grows restless.

The story has one thoughtful pause, as the antagonist, Metalghost - a human mixing board with a anti-Silencer agenda - lists his impressions of the freakish characters and faults that populate the city. For a page and a half, you start to wonder who the hero of the story really is, a question that is again raised with the final secret the story reveals. And if the question is answered from the context of the philosophy that is seemingly championed in the author's other works, most obviously Transmetropolitan and Hellstorm, then suddenly the ultraviolence loses its levity. But only in retrospect, and only once the secret is out. And with the caveat that "This is a true story. This is already here." in mind, the reader may wish to quickly return to thinking that City of Silence is funny.


Benjamin Russell is a new contributor to PopImage.

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